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Ideals and Realities
Often schoolchildren learn that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree as a boy.

by Damon Huss

What is the reality?

georgewashingtoncherrytreeThe popular story of a young Washington chopping down a tree and then confessing his wrongdoing did not appear until the fifth edition of Mason Weems’ biography of Washington, published in 1806. There is no other source for the story, and it is probably a myth. It has been used ever since to illustrate the moral character of Washington, but there are many other examples of Washington’s character: For example, he did not seek unlimited power for himself: He refused to be king, he stepped down as commander of the army, and he only ran twice for president.

In Weems’ colorful account, George chopped down the tree, but when his father asked him about it,

[H]e bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” —Run to my arms, you dearest boy, cried his father in transports, run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is worth more than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.

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